Language is a comprehensible index of an ethnic population’s maintenance of cultural heritage. Heritage language proficiency/retention is also a catalyst in

НазваниеLanguage is a comprehensible index of an ethnic population’s maintenance of cultural heritage. Heritage language proficiency/retention is also a catalyst in
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Language is a comprehensible index of an ethnic population’s maintenance of cultural heritage. Heritage language proficiency/retention is also a catalyst in second language acquisition and academic success (Díaz, 1985; García, 1988; Goodman & Buck, 1997; Laubeova, 2000; Mercado, 1988; Ramírez, Yuen, Ramey, & Pasta, 1991; Vázquez, Vázquez, & López, 1999). This research attempted to portray the heritage language maintenance situation among the Bangladeshi immigrants in Toronto. The particular plan was to portray the everyday practices, manifest attitude of Bangladeshi Bangali families regarding this issue and how they transmitted their language and language-specific values to their first and second generation immigrant children. The study is presented in six chapters.

The first chapter is a detailed introduction to the study. It provides a general background of the study, and describes the setting where the study is conducted. It also includes a statement of the problem, the research questions that are answered by the study, the limitations of the study, and the significance of the study. A section defining the important terms used in this study is also provided in this chapter to assist the reader. Chapter two provides a review of literature that covers a brief history of immigration and settlement of immigrants in Canada, pertaining to the ethnicity under investigation, the background of identity and culture of this people, the general scenario of heritage language maintenance among various immigrant groups in the world, and the connection between education and heritage language or first language maintenance. Chapter three delineates the methodology and research design namely, the participants of the study, instrumentation and methods used, data collection, analysis, and reporting procedures. Chapter four conveys the findings (data) of the study in the form of portraiture while chapter five provides an analysis based on the findings and the answers to the research questions. The final chapter draws the conclusion to the research by discussing the findings and implications of this study.

Background of the Study

“Toronto claims to be one of the most multicultural cities of the world. Its population, originating from 169 countries, speaks about 100 languages. The diversity extends all across the metropolitan region or Census Metropolitan Area (CMA). Markham now is an immigrants’ town, 53 percent of [its] residents are immigrants, and Mississauga, Brampton, Richmond Hill, and Pickering are not far behind” (Quadeer & Kumar, 2003, p.7). As many as 61 ethnic identities were reported to be present in these areas in the 2001 census report. Figure 1 compares the foreign-born population percentage of Toronto to similar cities in the world.

Figure 1: Foreign-born population in several major metropolitan cities

Sources: Statistics Canada, 2001 Census; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2001; U.S., Census Bureau, 2000

(Ryerson University, 2004)

Until 1971, immigration to Canada only encouraged people originating from European countries (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985; Kelley, & Trebilcock, 1998). Abu-Laban (1996) maintains that historically, Canadian “immigration policy was explicitly racist and had favored white European immigrants” (p.247) as race/ethnicity had been an explicit determinant for immigration. The waves of immigrants that had populated Canada, especially Toronto, through those years had at least one thing in common – the Caucasoid form that comes with their European ancestry, although diversity still existed. Despite the similarities, all ethnic groups did not assimilate in a predominant ‘white’ or Canadian culture in this cosmopolitan city; many had laid out unique cultural heritages here. For example, Greeks have always maintained their heritage with pride; this would include their language, food, culture, and sometimes, faith. They have claimed a part of the city where street signs are subtitled in Greek. Similar trends can be noticed in the Italians, Portuguese, and Jews. Though not exclusive of members of other ethnicities, the major (in size) enclaves in Toronto are Chinese, Italian, Jewish, and Portuguese (Quadeer & Kumar, 2003).

Attempts to universalize immigration and population profile began in 1967 as the Canadian immigration policy was readjusted towards the elimination of racial discrimination and a ‘universally applicable’ point-based system was introduced. This system rapidly increased the number of immigrants from non-white parts of the world such as Asia, Africa, and Latin America. (Atkey, 1990; Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985; Kelley, & Trebilcock, 1998; Wayland, 1997) Also, the new point-based system’s “stringent criteria of selection ensured ... high levels of education and professional training” among the newer immigrants as opposed to the simple manual skills of the earlier only-white immigrants (Abu-Laban, 1996, p.247). Nevertheless, despite discouragement, non-European immigrants had been settling in Canada for several centuries, Asians among them. Immigrants from China, Japan, and Hong Kong would be worth mentioning among the Asians. South Asians, however, have struggled to immigrate to Canada since the turn of the century (from 19th to 20th). Most of these early non-white immigrants, especially South Asians, were unskilled laborers working in lumber industries, land clearing and road and railway construction ventures. (Buchignani & Indra, 1985)

Although different ethnic groups of immigrants have preferred settling in different areas of Canada, Toronto has some members of almost all groups. (Health Information and Planning, 2003). However, the nature of ethnic clustering in Toronto is a little different than many other multicultural cities in the world because it is affected by a unique set of city factors in the rental practices, such as, a Canadian credit history, a stable well-paid job, and a reference or liability holder, known as a ‘co-signer’ to rent (Fong & Wilkes, 2003). Quadeer and Kumar (2003) recognize the presence of ethnic enclaves (in Toronto), but state that, far from voluntary ‘ethnic ghettoization’ which is normal, here they are “more the result of the structure of the housing market, job opportunities and people’s locational preferences than the legacy of racial discrimination.” It is also important to note that these enclaves are not exclusive to one or other ethnic group. The enclaves, nevertheless, continue to serve as the “reception areas for the poor and modest income immigrants” (p.8). And Quadeer (2003) concedes some of these ‘reception areas’ to be ‘high-rise ghettoes’, if not ethnic ghettoes (p.4).

Although many scholars who discuss at the ethnic histories of Canada, prefer including immigrants from Fiji, Africa, and the West Indies into one large group of people with South Asian origins; evolving into visibility currently in Toronto is an umbrella ethnicity, members of which identify more with the term Indian (from the Indian subcontinent, not including Afghanistan). Themes like ‘Bollywood’, ‘rickshaw’ and ‘sari’ knit them closer together. This label would be particular to a cultural cluster rather than a racial one, and thus would exclude, for instance, 3rd or 4th generation descendants of South Asians from Guyana. ‘India Bazaar’, which stretches nine blocks along Gerrard Street between Coxwell and Greenwood Avenues, is a large urban center which developed in the early 1980s ‘on the basis of culturally specific economies’. The Bazaar, also often called ‘Little India’, houses businesses predominantly from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Therefore, as one can see, the Bangali and Bangladeshi ethnicity/culture would easily be included under this umbrella by many scholars and officials (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985; Kumar & Martin, 2004). Although language, culture, and food of the Bangalis are, in many ways, quite different from the dominant Hindi/Urdu strain of the Indo-Iranian North India, Bangalis are hard to be differentiated from that strain in the eyes of outsiders, and there has always been outside and inside attempts to uphold the Hindi/Urdu strain as the overarching culture of every province/nationality of the Indian subcontinent (Ballard, 1990; Bhattacharyya, 2001; Buchignani & Indra 1985; Sengupta, 1987).

Bangalis from both West Bengal (the Bangla-speaking province of India, adjacent to Bangladesh) and Bangladesh (separated from India in 1947, and known as East Pakistan between 1945 and 1971), have been immigrating to Canada since the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with the relaxation of Canadian immigration rules and the government’s preference for more skilled professionals. The number of immigrants from Bangladesh has increased since 1971, as it can be rationally understood, because of its establishment as an independent nation. However, until about the past ten years, the flow of Bangladeshi immigrants had been limited to a few professionals, family-class immigrants, and political refugees. The establishment of an accessible immigration center and adjustment of the ‘point system’ that suits the Bangladeshi educated middle class have resulted in a significant increase in immigration in the past decade. The surge in immigrants from Bangladesh thereafter can be noticed as the number of [Bangla]-speaking people in Canada has reached about 35,000 by 2001, many of them from Bangladesh, while, the average number of immigrants from Bangladesh was below 100 every year between 1972 and 1982. The Toronto Census Metro area had 18,470 Bangla-speakers according to the 2001 census data. The number of recent Bangladeshi immigrants (people who are landed immigrants and have arrived in Canada within the last five years of the above mentioned census year) in Toronto city health region alone (excluding the neighboring regions and the urban corridor from Windsor to Toronto) has changed to 6,400 in 2001 from 2,700 in 1996 reflecting a 140% increase; continued increase in the flow is anticipated. (Buchignani & Indra, 1985; Hossain, 2003; Indra, 1987; Health Information and Planning, 2003; StatCan, 2002; Shaha, 2005)

Toronto and the smaller towns around it have a long history of welcoming immigrants from Bangladesh. However, unlike the Tower Hamlets in London, U.K. (Ali, 2003; Blackledge, 1999; Lawson & Sachdev, 2004), completely segregated ethnic Bangladeshi enclaves never happened here. The few high-/low-rise concentrations serve as primary welcoming area for them. As people reach a certain level of stability, financially and otherwise, and become more functional in the host country, they move out of the primary enclaves in Toronto city and settle in the suburbs or in neighboring regions of Peel, York, and Durham for jobs, businesses, or ownership of homes. Some move into homes within the city, close to these enclaves. Therefore, the population of the few enclaves rapidly changes. Still some areas remain as primary Bangladeshi enclaves while some other remain predominantly South Asian. Generally, more established people purchasing their own homes move into a neighborhood with people they already know and would likely have a support system and thus, form smaller ethnoburbs. Yet, there are many who move into unfamiliar neighborhoods for various reasons such as home price, predicted rise of home value, proximity to work, proximity to public transportation, or other assorted reasons. (Fong & Wilkes, 2003, Quadeer, 2003)

Although Bangla has not made it in the list of the top six languages spoken (counting English and French) in any individual township of Toronto or adjacent regions (Toronto Star, 2002), the total number of Bangalis (especially Bangladeshis) in the Toronto area and vicinity is quite large and steadily increasing according to the 2001 census data (Health Information and Planning, 2003). Alongside the increasing population and growing businesses, it is also important to note that voices within the community are showing concerns about declining enrollment in Bangla language programs under either the University of Toronto or the school boards (Jalil, 2005, Mahmood, 2005). In 1987, a study showed that the Bangla-speaking population had a high demand of heritage language teaching programs in Toronto (Sengupta, 1987). This demand eventually led to the offering of Bangla language through the Toronto and Peel district boards and the University of Toronto, but these programs are threatened to close now due to the lack of enrollment. There is a definite shift of direction in language maintenance at this point that needs to be understood.

To understand the nature of this new situation, the current research carefully studied the everyday practices, behavior patterns, and manifest attitudes of the immigrant Bangladeshi families concerning their children and heritage language maintenance. Learning from the volume of research already done, the study attempted to understand the roles of domain, interlocutors, topics, and audience, as well as the impact of location of language use, the perception of status of the heritage language and English to the children or any other factors of language behavior. The study also tried to map the patterns of the children’s and their parents’ heritage language use, including code-switching and code-mixing as they are affected by those factors. (Huerta-Marcias, & Quintero, 1992; Lee & Ahn, 2001; Ng & He 2004; Reyes, 2004; Tannenbaum, 2003)

Language maintenance patterns are generally found to be interesting across the world. While some linguistic minorities lose their heritage language quite rapidly, many others have been found to be using many resources and techniques in maintaining those. Formal heritage language programs ranging from dual language immersions to stand alone once-a-week programs are common resources used in heritage language maintenance, and are found to be very effective. However, many families use strategies at home ranging from discouraging dominant language at home to ‘one parent - one language’ to regular literacy lessons with parents. (Blackledge, 1999; Condos, 1997; Fishman, 1991; Hernández 2001; Hilton, 1999; Lan, 1992; Laubeová, 2000; Mercado, 1988; Smolicz, Secombe, & Hudson, 2001; Sengupta, 1985; Rahim 1990; Tannenbaum, 2003). Since children are very easily impacted by media, many try exposing children to heritage language media like satellite TV and other audio/video materials to facilitate language maintenance. (Crawford, 1996; Hilton, 1999; Pacini-Ketchabaw, Bernhard, & Friere, 2001). Visits and ties to the home country, letters and telephone communication with the global kin, frequent communications with other members of extended family or friends from the same language group, and maximum use of the heritage language within the family are also found to be effective in promoting heritage language maintenance. (Blackledge, 1999; Hilton, 1999; Pacini-Ketchabaw, Bernhard, & Friere, 2001; Rothenburg, 2000; Siddiquee 2002; Mohammad-Arif, 2000). Although different measures can be taken to maintain heritage language, the actual prevalence of these measures depends on the degree to which people are aware of the importance of maintaining their heritage language. It also depends on their attitude towards the action and awareness of available resources. (Crawford, 1996; Schecter, Sharken-Taboda & Bayley, 1996).


Kumar and Martin (2004) contend, “Unlike other South Asian markets in the GTA, the India Bazaar is located in the middle of a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood, with almost no South Asian residential population.” (p. 8). They imply that other South Asian markets are located among neighborhoods that house or congregate many people of that particular ethnicity (see also Quadeer & Kumar, 2003).

The store at the corner of the intersection of two major streets in Toronto (Danforth Avenue and Victoria Park Avenue) is named ‘The Little Bangladesh’ (Appendix A). That describes the predominant character of this area, which is generally referred to as ‘Bangla Town’ by community members (see ethnic Bangla newspapers published from Toronto). Besides the cited traditional Bangali clothing store, there are seven Bangladeshi ethnic grocery stores, three ethnic Bangali restaurants, and a couple of Bangladesh-style tea stalls/cafés (more in the form of miniature convenience stores) within half a mile in that section of Danforth Avenue, next to where it intersects Victoria Park Avenue. There are also one Bangla bookstore and six other stores that sell or rent audio and video recordings of movies, songs, TV shows, mainly in Bangla (some in Hindi/Urdu). Another bookstore sells printed and recorded Islamic material mainly from Bangladesh and in Bangla. Five weekly newspapers are published in Bangla from this strip of the avenue. One is sold for a dollar per copy, others are free. Other businesses that cater towards the Bangali, especially Bangladeshi population, also thrive here.

Many of the businesses which chiefly target the large Bangladeshi population are financial businesses that deal in currency exchange and arrange for money dispersal among extended family members in Bangladesh, travel agencies that specialize in flights to Bangladesh and India, immigration lawyers, immigration related photographers, insurance brokers, and money lenders. In the center of the area, a large office of family physicians house two extremely busy doctors of Bangladeshi origin. The bank in the center of the neighborhood has at least one Bangla-speaking clerk. And there is at least one make-shift prayer house in the area run by the Bangladeshi Muslims.

At least one Bangladeshi-Canadian community service holds an office in this area. Signs for the stores and offices are written both in English and Bangla. A temporary structure, a replica of the original Shahid Minar in Dhaka (martyr’s monument), is erected in one corner of the street on the Language Martyrs’ Day (February 21st) each year. It stays there for the rest of the month strewn in bouquets. At least one Bangali-style mela (carnival cum cultural exhibition) takes place in this area every summer, where it is claimed to have about 50 kiosks set up and about 20,000 people converging. On weekends the particular section of Danforth Road is crowded by Bangladeshis who live in the neighborhood and those who live in other parts of the mega city.

Many of these people who live in other parts of the Toronto area started their first days in Canada in this neighborhood. Eventually they moved away when they were finally settled and obtained mortgages of their own. An estimated eight to nine hundred Bangali families live only in the ten to twelve high-rise buildings in the neighborhood of three blocks. Almost all of these families have school-aged or younger children. Many of these children were born in Bangladesh while many others were born in foreign countries, especially in Canada, Europe, U.S.A., or in the Middle East. Because they are new in this country, and therefore do not have a Canadian credit history or employer’s guarantee while renting a place to live, relatives, friends and acquaintances who live or have lived in the neighborhood act as references and guarantors (co-signers on the lease agreements). These are the people that turn into neighbors, friends, babysitters, and advisors, even if blood ties are not present. Eventually children grow up thinking these are their real uncles, aunts, and cousins. The documentation in the Bangla newspapers published from Toronto reflect that the Bangalis here get together throughout the year to watch cultural shows, to celebrate Eid or a Puja, or to simply for a jolsha (singing and reciting poems) or adda (socializing), and for dinner parties on different occasions. Other community-based meetings involve decision making about different political and religious events and observations.

More Bangalis live in the neighborhood in detached and semi-detached houses or in other areas 10 to 15 minutes drive away. The other Bangali concentration, not nearly as high as this neighborhood, is in the Regent Park area on Gerrard Street (comprising mostly government subsidized housing), and is not too far away from the India Bazaar and about three miles away from the Little Bangladesh area. Many other Bangalis live dispersed in other parts of the City of Toronto and neighboring regions of Peel, York, and Durham (Statistics Canada [StatCan], 2002). Isolated Bangladeshi grocery stores have developed in different sections of the mega city, especially near high-rise clusters, but the Danforth section is the only place where Bangladeshi businesses thrive.

Purpose of the Study

This study attempted to surface the emic story of the Bangladeshi immigrants in Toronto as they transmit their language and the values that accompany language, to the next generation. It also explored the issues of language maintenance/attrition particular to this group. The purpose of this study was to describe the emerging pattern of practices and manifest attitudes regarding first language maintenance/attrition in the daily lives of the Bangladeshi immigrant families living in the Toronto area.

Statement of the Problem

This study set to examine the behavior patterns of Bangladeshi immigrants in Toronto with regards to maintaining their heritage language, Bangla, by transmitting the language and language-specific values and expressions to the younger generations.

Research Questions

The study attempted to answer the following questions:

1. To what extent is language maintenance noticeable within the families of Bangladeshi immigrants in Toronto?

2. To what extent and in what ways is the heritage language present and used in the context of the families?

3. What are the ranges of relationships that Bangladeshi immigrant families in Toronto have with outside contexts and resources with regards to their heritage language?

4a. In what ways do parents or adults in the family convey values and attitudes about heritage language to their children?

4b. How much importance do parents attach to the transmission of heritage language?

Definition of Terms

Heritage Language

Language specific to one’s cultural heritage – to the culture inherited through ethnic descent. Since this study will be dealing with immigrant families (of whom the head of the households are first generation immigrants), the term ‘heritage language’ will imply ‘mother tongue’ and generally equate to ‘first language’, unless exceptions are found.

Mother Tongue

‘One’s native tongue,’ according to Webster’s dictionary. Term generally used in Canadian census; Statistics Canada defines it as the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood by the individual at the time of the census.

First language

The language first learnt and spoken as a child at home. It is generally implied that this language is generally spoken and understood most often by the individual, and this is the language he or she feels most comfortable with. Many studies in the fields of education and social sciences have labeled mother tongue as first language, which is also used to refer to heritage language sometimes. The current study will generally use the term ‘heritage language’ while referring to the immigrants’ mother tongue or first language.


A language among the Indo-Iranian language group. This language, in its several dialectical forms, is spoken in the South-Asian region once identified as Bengal. Although previously made known as ‘Bengali’ by the European merchants, missionaries, and empiricists, it is increasingly being identified as ‘Bangla’ by many scholars of the present days. This is the name by which its speakers know or label it.


The majority people living in the region historically known as ‘Bengal’ or ‘Bangla’, who speaks the Bangla language or its dialects, and trace their roots to a culture that revolves around plain lands and river-based agriculture and fishing. This ethno-linguistic group is now divided into two political boundary based subgroups – Bangladeshi Bangali and Bangali from West Bengal (Indian Bangali). Also, it should be noted, that this group of people has also been known to the world as ‘the Bengali people’.


Nationals of Bangladesh by birth. Holding a Bangladeshi nationality, however, does not imply that everybody is Bangali. Minority tribes-people, a small group of Urdu-speaking people, Firingi people, who identify themselves as of British Anglo descent, are also considered as Bangladeshi. For the purpose of this study, foreign-born children of Bangladeshi nationals will also be considered Bangladeshi, as they are not required to have a visa to enter or live in Bangladesh, due to their parentage.

Bangladeshi Bangali

Bangladeshi people, excluding those who do not identify with the Bangla language and culture, such as, minority tribes-people, a small group of Urdu-speaking people, or Firingi people.

Bangladeshi Community

According to Quadeer (2003), the formation of an ethnic community takes a few years depending on its “population size, rate of immigration, economic status, and community organization.” The Bangladeshi population of Toronto, at least in the Danforth area, seems to have formed a community, according to Quadeers’ definition, complete with its social, religious, legal, financial institutions and its “gatekeepers” who “facilitate the movement of ethnic households in and out of the community.”


A term generally used in Anthropology and qualitative studies while studying a group of people; meaning the view or voice of insiders.


A term generally used in Anthropology and qualitative studies while studying a group of people; meaning the view or voice of outsiders.

Astronaut Family

An astronaut family is understood as a living state of a family where one of the parents, usually the father, returns to the home country or some other country of employment leaving the rest of the family (children and the other parent) in Canada to fulfill their residency requirements towards Canadian citizenship or for the children to obtain education.

Limitations of the Study

With all the attention directed to heritage language maintenance during the current times, there are many aspects of an ethno-cultural group to study. However, this study focused only on the behavior of the group towards the maintenance of their language. The selection of sample and setting or locale of the study was also quite limited.

Boundary/Limits (Delimitation)

For narrowing purposes, the study was limited to the observed behavior of families with regards to transmitting their heritage language and language-specific values to their children. The influence of contexts beyond the family on children’s heritage language maintenance could have been noteworthy in thoroughly understanding this group’s language maintenance. For practical reasons, the scope of the study did not extend much beyond the observation of three families. This sample was not inappropriate for an ethnographic study, but was quite small for a universal understanding or for generalization. Also, to maintain coherence in background and setting, the participants were all chosen with ties to a limited specific setting. Instead of being selected randomly, they were chosen through convenience – through acquaintance. Data from outside source were gathered mainly through document review. People who worked with this community in their efforts of settlement, integration, and language maintenance could be significant informants of the study. For practical reasons, only two of such sources were interviewed, while many other such sources might have contributed remarkably in the study.


The grounded nature of the study required that there be not too many assumptions. However, because of the limitedness of the background and setting, it was expected that the behavior observed across the families would be similar. Also, some coherence between the observed situation and findings of other similar studies was assumed. Based on these assumptions, the intention was to draw a coherent and whole portrait of the ethnic group.

Significance of the Study

Many scholars maintain that cultural identity retention of an ethnic (immigrant) population, of which language would be a component, is extremely important for proper functioning and integration of the population in the host environment (Baker, 1996; Hilton, 1999; Sengupta, 1987). It is interesting noticing that during the past ten years, a significant number of dissertations have been focusing on the maintenance of heritage language and culture of different ethnic populations in the western world. Many theories and research point to the positive outcomes of heritage language fluency and maintenance among ethnic minorities as related to social and cultural integration, sense of identity and belonging, and educational achievement (Caldas & Caron-Caldas, 1999; Kehoe, 1982; Noels, Pon, & Clement, 1996). Living in proximity of same language speakers, attending heritage language instruction, access to other linguistic and cultural resources, language transmitting and teaching strategies used by parents, and similar conditions are known to facilitate language maintenance of an ethnic population (Blackledge, 1999; Condos, 1997; Fishman, 1991; Hernández, 2001; Hilton, 1999; Lan, 1992; Laubeová, 2000; Mercado, 1988; Mohammad-Arif, 2000; Pacini-Ketchabaw, Bernhard, & Friere, 2001; Rahim 1990; Rothenburg, 2000; Sengupta, 1985; Siddiquee 2002; Smolicz, Secombe, & Hudson, 2001; Tannenbaum, 2003).

This study is expected to serve as an important record in the focus population’s history. The results of the current study forms a larger picture on the time continuum as related to the conclusions of the study conducted by Sengupta on a related population, and on the same language, in 1987. The research is expected to serve as a witness of the life of a people at a point in time. Studies have shown that many children, although oblivious of ethnic identity and heritage are happy to be accepted among their mainstream peers when young, become confused and dissatisfied with their ignorance of their roots later in their lives. Many start searching for their ethnic identity and heritage as well as explanations regarding their upbringing (Almirall-Padamsee, 1998; Hilton, 1999; Mohammad-Arif, 2000). This document would be available to those searching and striving to understand their cultural and linguistic identity, the dynamics of events and situations that shaped their childhood, and the process of their development. This piece of history is expected to serve as a significant contributor in constructing the identity, the knowledge of self, for the future adult Torontonians of Bangladeshi descent.

Beyond the immediate population, the current study is expected to add to the information repertoire of government and non-government agencies that are trying to address the ethnic group’s linguistic, cultural, educational, and settlement needs. The knowledge of the everyday life practices, manifest attitudes, and the dynamics of events in the lives of these people available through this study is expected to aid the process of adjusting their services towards this group. It is likely that through enhancing these social and political institutes’ understanding of these people, much benefit can be achieved for Canada by bringing out the best in this people. For the same reasons, the study is anticipated to have significant implication in the work of educators who teach the children of this and other similar communities, as their knowledge and understanding of these people increase. It is moreover the hope that this study will make the educators better aware of these people’s language needs and realities, which eventually may lead to the academic excellence of the children.

In addition, it is anticipated that this study will draw attention to the issue and shed light on important aspects as to facilitate language maintenance among this ethnic population. The hope is that the realities and language education needs will eventually be better understood and addressed by the funding agencies and education boards. The intention of the researcher is not only to translate and publish the ethnographic portraitures produced by the study, but also publish other articles that address the language education needs that are felt through this study for the community and the academia which would create awareness and provide motivation and guidance towards the language maintenance of this group.


Heritage language knowledge and maintenance has been found to be positively linked to the social and cultural integration, sense of identity and belonging, and educational achievement of an ethnic group. The influx of Bangladeshi immigrants to Toronto has started about ten years ago. With more than 55% of the people whose mother tongue is Bangla being in the age group of 15 – 44 years according to the 2001 census, and another 14% in the age group of 45 – 54, it is a significant point in time to study the environment and situation of heritage language maintenance among this group’s children.

This study had set to examine the behavior patterns of Bangladeshi immigrants in Toronto with regards to maintaining their heritage language, Bangla, by transmitting the language and language-specific values and expressions to the younger generations. There have also been claims that family is the primary factor in maintaining heritage language and transmitting it to the next generations and besides, there have been claims that family is a very significant unit to this particular ethnic group. This study, therefore, focused on families with children and their behaviors in context regarding their heritage language use and transmission. It further focused on families that live in a particular Bangladeshi ethnic enclave in Toronto, or, not too long ago, started their immigrant lives there and still have ties to it.

Chapter 2



This study addresses a much localized phenomenon, which may be quite unfamiliar to many of its audience. Keeping in mind the need of filling in the audience with the diverse kind of details of its background, an extensive literature review has been produced in this chapter. This chapter focuses on ideas, experiences, and history related to the Bangladeshi, and instrumentally, the South Asian immigrants in Toronto of which the Bangladeshi is generally considered a subgroup. The chapter also covers other information and discussion of other similar peoples, when found pertinent. Language maintenance and immigration issues of the French, English, and other populations are, therefore, overlooked. At the beginning stage of the research, the review of literature also attempted to construct the theoretical framework that became instrumental for triangulating data and analysis of the study. As the chapter tries to cover pertinent aspects as extensively as possible, it might seem rather overwhelming to read. Therefore, a flowchart (see Figure 1. on next page) of the chapter is deemed useful at this point.

The chapter begins by recounting the history of South Asian and Bangladeshi groups to Canada. The second major section of the chapter describes patterns of identity and settlement of Bangladeshi immigrants in Toronto in relation to pertinent groups; above all, the South Asian people. This section also attempts to provide an understanding of Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi. Besides the settlement patterns and issues of this people, the section also includes a side discussion of the phenomena termed ‘transnationalism’.

South Asians in Canada

Identity and Settlement

Multiculturism and Language Maintenance

Education & Language Maintenance



Importance of Ethnic Ties

Diversity in South Asia

Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi

South Asian Settlement in Canada

Bangladeshi Immigration & Settlement in Canada


State and Nationality

Other Factors

Bangladesh: Recent Years



Prospects of Bangladeshis in Toronto

Generation Gap

Formal Programs

Multiculturalism in Canada

How Others Fare

Importance of Heritage Language Maintenance

Conditions of Heritage Language Maintenance



Groups and Patterns

Around the Globe


Other Bangladeshis

Figure 2. Flowchart of Chapter 2

Literature review

The third major section of this chapter discusses the issues of multiculturalism and heritage language maintenance including: the importance of heritage language maintenance, the conditions necessary for heritage language maintenance, a comprehensive overview of heritage language maintenance in the world, and prospects of heritage language maintenance for Bangladeshi immigrants in the Canadian/Torontonian context. The final major section of this chapter highlights the relevance of the current study in the field of education by discussing the implications of heritage language maintenance in the educational context.

It should be noted that in much of the literature reviewed, Bangla, the language, was mentioned using the standard term, Bengali. Similarly, the Bangali ethnic people often were referred to as the Bengali. In the interest of preserving the emic voice sought in this study, and to maintain coherence, those standard terms are changed into the insider terms: Bangla and Bangali respectively.

South Asians in the Canadian Context

South Asian and Bangladeshi Immigration to Canada

This chapter begins by rediscovering the story of the increasing presence of Bangladeshis in Canada, and therefore, in Toronto. Since Bangladeshis are, in many cases, considered a sub-ethnicity of the South Asian group, the recounting begins with the history of immigration and settlement of South Asians in Canada and around the globe; because the legacies of many of the situations, events, policies, politics, and dynamics that arose throughout this history shape the aspirations and the destiny of Bangladeshi immigrants and similar people to this day. This chapter discusses events and dynamics in the history of many other people similar to the Bangladeshis in anticipation that these phenomena are rather generally applicable towards similar people; over and above, this section also discusses evidences that highlight disparities of the Bangladeshi people regarding these aspects in preparation of handling similar or unlike patterns that emerge from the current study of the Bangladeshi. The other reason for the examination of the history of other similar groups is simply the lack of availability of the history of the Bangladeshi people in the current context, since the Bangladeshi is not a widely studied group.

Starting much earlier, Canada has maintained a tradition of immigration since its emergence as one of the political entities in the world. After the first French and English settlers settled in Canada, immigrants had been joining them since 1759, and ‘large-scale immigration’ of Europeans other than French and English started around 1867 (Baker, 1996). However, it is important to learn for the purpose of this study that, historically Canadian “immigration policy was explicitly racist and had favored white European immigrants” (Abu Laban, 1996, p. 247), as race/ethnicity had been an explicit determinant for immigration. Yet, it is also true that in the 30 years from 1759, some of the immigrants who arrived from the United States were of African origin. Later, policies and practices started being devised continually to discourage people of non-white origin from the U.S. despite the exceptional incidents and phenomena such as the ‘underground railway’. The Sifton campaign (1896-1905) recruited white healthy farmers only from Europe as immigrants. Applications from other races were usually rejected. (Baker, 1996; Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985; Hiebert, 1994; Kelley, & Trebilcock, 1998; Wayland, 1997).

Such was the situation until the end of World War II. At the beginning, there was need for help in infrastructural development such as railroad building. Also, as European immigrant farmers started farming the lands in the vast country, there was always a need for farmhands. Cheap Asian labor was always taken advantage of in the mining, fishing, and logging industries, besides the aforementioned two areas. With industrial revolution, more low level-jobs in the factories needed to get done, and more non-European immigrants flowed in. (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985; Wayland, 1997). Immigrant groups other than French, British, and Northern Europeans “[had] been recruited to fill the less skilled, less well paid, and less privileged positions in an expanding economy [of Canada], although immigration policies [had] become less explicit in this respect in [later] years” (Darroch, 1980, p.205).

“Virtually everyone [of South Asian origin] who came [to Canada] before World War II was from Punjab. Ninety to 95 percent were Sikh, even though Sikhs composed a minority of the Punjabi population.” (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985, p. 11) South Asians came to Canada for a better life and to escape poverty in their underdeveloped villages; “as with chain migration everywhere, the stories of the few who struck it rich were listened to rather than those of the many who [had] not.” (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985 p.44)

The trial. At the turn of the century (from the 19th to the 20th) Canada, especially the west coast, was marked with fear and unrest concerning the rising threat of non-white immigration. Later, the 1907 ‘Report of the Royal Commission’ by W. L. McKenzie King fueled the unrest by portraying an unfairly biased picture of ‘Hindoo1’ immigration. The report concluded that South Asian immigration posed a far greater problem for the state than the immigration of any other groups. This was reflected in the contemporary legislations of British Canada. In reality, the South Asians there were never a burden to the state as all of them were almost always employed at sawmills, and in the industries related to land clearing, roads and railway construction. Those who were temporarily unemployed were always supported by the Punjabi community. Still, as the Canadian unionized labor system felt threatened by the presence of South Asians, alongside the Japanese and Chinese, racist feelings ran high; and it was generally believed that these people, particularly the South Asians, were draining out the white taxpayers’ money by living on welfare. It is only by hard work, communal efforts, and innovativeness, that the South Asians slowly made their way into entrepreneurship and establishment. (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985; see also Kelley & Trebilcock, 1998)

Community support came from the Sikh religious centers, and Punjabi and Indian socio political organizations. Over the years, scores of well-educated South Asians either worked with these organizations or lobbied on behalf of these immigrants through the British and Canadian governments, among them were a few Bangalis Tarakanath Das, Hussain Rahim, and the Nobel-laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore. Support outside the community came from Christian religious organizations and humanitarian organizations in eastern Canada. At this point, it should also be remembered that a few members of the community, in alliance with William C. Hopkinson, acted against the interest of South Asians instead. However, the general antagonism towards non-white immigrants led to several federal policy changes that sharply restricted South Asian immigration, citizenship, franchise and other rights and privileges. As a result, the early immigrants spent decades in Canada without their spouses and family, or even without being able to visit them, struggling for their rights and to avail a better life. (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985; see also Kelley & Trebilcock, 1998).

Policies and implications. In 1907, British Columbia passed the Bowser bill to disenfranchise all “natives of India not of Anglo-Saxon parents.” (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985, p.21) The ‘Continuous Journey’ legislature of 1908 then technically imposed an immigration ban on the South Asians. The continuous journey law also required every new immigrant to bring $200 settlement money as a guarantee. Other policies such as head tax, which had been in place since 1885, contributed to the process of restricting non-European immigration. Through the continuous journey policy, instead of directly discriminating against the South Asians, the Canadian government succeeded in halting any passage from South Asia to Canada, as the Pacific sea route was the only available route at the time. The policy required that immigrants arrive through a direct passage to Canada from their home country, a travel that was (or was kept) practically impossible. Attempts to create means for direct passage were defeated by the government and locals. Besides impacting new immigration from South Asia, this law made it impossible for South Asian immigrants already residing in Canada to visit their native land. (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985; Taylor, 1991; Wayland, 1997; see also Kelley & Trebilcock, 1998).

By 1910 most of the Muslim and Hindu South Asians had left Canada. Some went back home, and many went to the United States, where the economic and political conditions were much friendlier to them. In November 1913, the policy of continuous journey and $200 in hand was ruled invalid on the basis of legal technicalities; but in December 1913, another court order stopped all entry of ‘artisan or general unskilled labor classes’ through British Columbia; and in January 1914, a reworded version of the ‘continuous journey’ orders came into effect again. As a parallel to the official policy changes, legislations, and lawsuits, immigration officers who were aware of local needs, sympathies and hostilities, had acted on their own in favor of or against loosening the legal grips at different times. (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985; see also Kelley & Trebilcock, 1998).

The general hostility towards the South Asians became low by the 1920s and from the mid 20s, immigration of South Asian adult females and children started increasing. It should be noted that before this period, not only immigration from South Asia, but any kind of entry either for studies or for a visit, was restricted either through policy or by practice. Anglo-Indians or Indians of Anglo descent were admitted using sexist standards as an Indian with a British father and Indian mother was allowed, but one with an Indian father and a British mother was not. Similar standards applied to ‘prospective British immigrants with South Asian spouses’. (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985)

The light at the end. Policy reforms during the first part of the 20th century basically banned any immigration by 1930, except for wives and dependent children of legal residents already in Canada. By 1931, the only people allowed to immigrate were “British subjects from Great Britain, United States citizens ‘with means’, and agriculturalists with capital” (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985, p.91). However, with prospects of a Canadian trade agreement with India, the deportation situation was getting better for those South Asian illegal immigrants who were already in Canada. With the end of the World Wars and the independence of the Indian subcontinent, South Asian status changed. In April 1947, Lester Pearson proposed that South Asians are granted citizenship and Canadian passports. South Asians in British Columbia gained voting rights the same year, even before the native people acquired the rights. (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985). In May 1947, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King put new immigration policies in force which widened the eligibility for the category of sponsored relatives. However, the new policy also assured that traditional preferred sources were ensured by encouraging those who already had relatives in Canada. (Atkey, 1990).

Post World War economic and demographic conditions both in Canada and Europe necessitated massive reforms in the Canadian immigration policies. Baker (1996) observes that the policies moved from the exclusionist towards the ‘universalist’ end of the continuum, and as a result, a shift occurred in the origin of immigrants from Europe and the United States to Asia, especially to Hong Kong and India (see also Wayland, 1997). Canadian immigration policies that discouraged or barred South Asian immigration altogether, were for the first time modified in 1951 in their favor. A quota was set for, not counting families, 150 immigrants from India (current geo-political definition), 100 from Pakistan (at the time comprised of West Pakistan, now Pakistan, and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh), and 50 from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). After landing in Canada, immigrants were allowed to bring in their relatives and since Sikhs were already in the process of migrating, most of the quota for both India and Pakistan were primarily taken by Sikhs until 1957. (Atkey, 1990; Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985; Kelley & Trebilcock, 1998)

Beginning of diversification. In the early times when the policies were tough, only unskilled laborers and peasants came to Canada hunting for better lives, but the altered conditions in the post World War era attracted many professionals from South Asia. By the 1950s, besides the Sikhs, Hindu and Muslim Punjabis were also coming.

By 1960 a couple of hundred Indian nationals of other ethnic, linguistic, and regional backgrounds had also arrived – a polyglot collection of Hindi-speaking people from Uttar Pradesh, Gujaratis, [Bangalis], Tamil-speakers from Madras, and others. Almost all of them were well educated and highly trained…. Finally, these new immigrants began to spread out across the country, starting communities in Toronto, Montréal, and elsewhere. (Buchignani & Indra with Srivastiva, 1985, pp. 106-107)

Some of the credit for diversification of South Asian ethnicities should be paid to the fact that the criteria for selecting immigrants to fill the quota were repeatedly raised during the 1950s. Eventually, job prospects for well-educated and skilled professionals attracted the newer and diverse South Asian population, largely to Toronto.

Modifications. To retain its credibility and acceptability at the United Nations, Commonwealth, and other international human rights circles, Canada finally completely eliminated the racial criteria from its immigration policy in 1962. In 1967, the government reformed the immigration policies towards more universalistic/egalitarian ‘points-based system’. This system clearly outlined the education, training, skills and other special qualifications for selecting immigrants. The policy emphasized family re-unification, international obligations to refugees and displaced persons, and the need to tailor immigration to Canada’s economic and demographic needs. (Atkey, 1990; Kelley & Trebilcock, 1998; Wayland, 1997)

Canada was hit by an economic recession in the late 1970s. Consequently, lower occupational demand factors impacted South Asian immigration flow in remarkable ways again. Instead of skilled professionals, ‘family-class’ (sponsored by relatives) immigrants dominated. The ‘family-class’ consisted of close relatives of permanent residents of Canada. Immigrants in this category were not assessed under the points-based system, and their sponsoring relatives would have to agree to be responsible for their sustenance up to ten years. Numbers of independent class (skilled professional) immigrants were greatly restricted because of economic depression and unemployment until the mid-1980s. (Atkey, 1990; Wayland, 1997)

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